After devastating natural hurricane disasters, Caribbean countries are struggling to bring the islands together. MOU signed at the just-concluded UNWTO Sustainable Tourism conference in Montego Bay opened more doors to establish enhanced and direct air service to and between the island countries.
Besides the lack of air services to fly from one island to another, also air-connections to the island often involves a change of aircrafts in the United States. US airports including Miami, Ft.Lauderdale, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Newark, JFK are some of the connecting points for tourists to reach a Caribbean State like Jamaica.
This is profitable for U.S. airlines including American, Delta, United, SouthWest, and others, but a nightmare for some travelers arriving from a country that requires a VISA for the U.S., but no visa for the destination country, for example, Jamaica.
In almost every part of the world, this is no big deal. International airline passengers transiting through airports and not entering the transit airport country it only involves clearing a security check. Passngers walk from gate to gate and enjoy duty-free shopping in between. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Tokyo, Beijing, Frankfurt, London, Singapore, Bangkok, Istanbul, Munich, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Cairo – almost every airport on the globe has transit passengers and can handle them without requiring them to clear immigration or customs at the transit airport point.
The United States of America is different. If a passenger passes through a US airport it means clearing immigration, getting your suitcase and checking in again for your connecting flight. Some say this is an abuse of passenger and in violation of international airline agreements.
Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization agreed. He told eTN at the just concluded UNWTO Sustainable Tourism Conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica, that it was not a pleasant experience trying to connect travel through a US airport when traveling to different Caribbean state. He said: “I have a U.S. visa, but going through immigration, facing long lines, clearing U.S. customs and checking back in and go through security again, makes this travel experience unpleasant.”
A government delegation to the UNWTO conference from Greece arrived a day late, because they had to get an “emergency” transit- visa for the U.S. before they were allowed to go on a direct itinerary from Athens to Montego Bay through New York.
Jamaica’s tourism minister Ed Bartlett said: “We are in an advance discussion with the U.S. State Department and other Caribbean nations in regards to the transit issue and a single visa for the Caribbean. There are electronic options, including visa payment options, a country could implement.”
In the meantime, the majority of all flights to the Caribbean touch a U.S. port and it means delays, long lines and a complicated process unnecessary in today’s electronic world. Caribbean states are also looking for more direct flights from major gateways in Europe to overcome this hurdle.
Minister Bartlett responded that this question speaks clearly to the strategy of tourism, explaining that the MOU speaks to the harmonization of certain types of policies, particularly in relation to clearance regulations for the United States and visa facilitation, and what needs to be done in terms of making payments online. He said, “More important, is to create a single visa card that will allow an international visitor who comes into let’s say Jamaica to then have domestic arrangements thereafter. That would be enormous in terms of the airlines … and cost as well.” He said they are pretty advanced in discussions with US representatives and other destinations as well, such as the Bahamas, Aruba, and even Colombia, for example.” He said they are looking forward to the day when a visitor can fly from between islands with ease. He further explained that they are also discussing with China how to structure travel with Jamaica.
Taleb concurred with Juergen that it was not a pleasant experience trying to connect travel within the Caribbean.